Bill was telling us about an experience he recently had while walking their two dogs in a wooded area on their farm. It seems the dogs discovered an injured, barely moving 6-point buck lying at the edge of a small valley. He decided that the dogs would best be taken home, so he took them back to the house and then returned to look at the deer.
By the time he got to the deer it had died, so he searched for a wound and found none. Grabbing an antler to move the deer, he realized that its neck was broken. Then he saw that its lower jaw was also broken. Bill said that a large 10-point buck had repeatedly been seen in the area and he figured that the two bucks had gotten into a battle, which the 6-point lost in a big way.
In October there were reports and photos of one of Pennsylvania’s bull elk that had been killed in a rutting battle. While relatively uncommon, mortal wounds from fights during the rut do happen. Whether deer or elk, these are powerful animals equipped with potentially lethal weapons.
Bill’s account made me wonder about the remains of antlered bucks that I’ve found over the years. Although these look somewhat similar, they are not the same deer --
I’d usually assumed that these deer had been shot during hunting season and not recovered or been hit by a vehicle and run off to die some time later –
But, that’s not an assumption that should be made.
Fatal wounds are not the only way that rutting males can die. In the 1950s we went to the Heads and Horns museum at the New York Zoological Society’s Bronx Zoo. Part of the museum’s collection consisted of many pairs of male elk, moose and deer that had locked antlers while fighting and, being unable to disentangle themselves, perished. That collection was subsequently moved to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, WY.
Battles for mating rights don’t always end with the looser going off to fight another day; sometimes the loser loses his life.